Sweating the OSS vendor

No matter how good you are at planning, the pressure never goes away. So I don’t fight it. I feed off it. I turn pressure into motivation to do my best.”
Benjamin Carson
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Over the years, I’ve seen many a customer put pressure on the vendor (ie sweat the vendor) to do tasks that aren’t necessarily contracted, with the customer using the catch-all claim of “the vendor is obliged to deliver a fully functional solution for us.”

Technically this might be correct, but it’s not always a constructive attitude for the customer in the long-run. For example, the activities might include gathering information, creating data-sets, re-engineering processes, etc. You can often force the vendor to do all these tasks, but you’re missing out on a huge learning opportunity that could make your organisation stronger in the long-term (ie once you take over responsibility for operating the OSS the vendor has commissioned for you).

Let me share an example. I once hired a clever young Engineer who was showing all the signs of being an avid learner, asking questions on a regular basis. He was hired for a project where our team was architecting a multi-vendor solution for a customer and he was responsible for a network domain headed by one well-known vendor. A colleague (the domain lead) and I (overall design responsibility) had already architected the solution and our new hire was responsible for working through the minutiae with the vendor. Over the next few months, whenever he was asked a question by the customer or our team leads, he would simply forward the question to the vendor, sweat them and then relay their answer.

He achieved an outcome, but by not adding any value he also gained no personal value. Credit to him for getting a job done with little personal effort, but an enormous opportunity was lost because it was clear that by the end of the project he knew little about the solution that was actually delivered. He had gained little experience that would enable him to design, build or operate a similar solution in the future.

As the old saying goes, “the more you put in, the more you get out.” That specifically includes customers!

So, if you’re an executive, project sponsor or hold senior positions responsible for delivering OSS projects for CSPs, I implore you to assign enough resources to get deeply involved in the implementation rather than sweating the vendor.

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